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Ears-on with Amazon’s new Echo earbuds, framebuds, and ringbud – TechCrunch

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Amazon announced more than a few devices today during an event at its headquarters in Seattle, and it was the smallest gadgets that made the biggest impression. The company built Alexa into earbuds, glasses and a ring with the Echo Buds, Echo Frames and Echo Loop, respectively. I’ve tried them all out.

The ones people are most likely to actually want are the earbuds, of course. With Bose noise reduction and Alexa functions built in, they’ll be a popular option for anyone who doesn’t want to take out their phone, but also doesn’t want to wear large over-hear headphones.

The Echo Buds are somewhat large — bigger than several sets of wireless headphones I’ve seen and tried, though they were comfortable after being corkscrewed into my ear.

They have two modes: noise reduction and passthrough, which you switch between with a double tap on either bud. The noise reduction was considerable, but certainly not to the level you’d expect from a pair of over-ears. In-ear headphones already provide a physical barrier to sound getting in, but the addition of three microphones on each ear (two external and one internal) let it do the usual electronic reduction as well. I could still hear the crowd around me and people speaking to me, but it was easily drowned out by the Billie Eilish song they queued up.

alexa echo amazon 9250092

Passthrough provided a quick and clear version of surrounding audio with no noticeable delay. Music and other stuff can still be played in this mode and it blended pretty seamlessly in.

Of course the Echo Buds, like pretty much everything else at the event, have Alexa built in. You get at the service via a wake word, a process that worked well for me.

Their little case looks more fiddly than it is. Magnets snap the contacts onto each other and it begins charging immediately. You should get some 4-5 hours with the buds, out to 20 hours if you drain the case too.

About five feet away from these headphones, and with a half hour wait to test out, were the new Echo Frames. These glasses can be customized with your prescription, though sadly the design and material are locked in.

alexa echo amazon 9250080

The oversized arms of the glasses house the Alexa hardware, and while the glasses themselves are pretty light, the thickness is definitely noticeable from any angle. The underside of the right arm has an activation button and a volume rocker, as well as the port for magnetic charging. The big shiny sides are touch sensitive; you swipe to accept a call, respond to Alexa offering more info and so on.

The sound is a bit like someone whispering in your ear — you wouldn’t want to listen to music on these, the Amazon folks admitted. But speech was clear and Alexa commands were handled quickly.

The speakers aren’t exactly hidden: Each arm has two speakers inside, each of which has two “ports,” one on top and one on bottom. I asked the demonstrator probably five times why there are ports on the top if the sound needs to come out the bottom, but all she would say is that it’s how they made the directional audio work.

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Perhaps that’s also why I could hear the Alexa responses from a foot or two away in a crowded room. You can configure it so only certain things get played automatically, which is good, because if the person on the bus next to me heard some of the texts I get, they might be alarmed.

Honestly it’s not much worse, though a bit clearer, than if someone is using bad earbuds. Just be aware that if you use these things, others might be hearing that whispered text conversation too.

alexa echo amazon 9250068

Last, and weirdest, is the Echo Loop. It’s a big fat ring that you can use to ask Alexa questions and hear the answers. The big part with the dots isn’t actually the speaker, but rather part of the microphone array — presumably for subtracting ambient noise so the speech recognition works better. The inside of the ring is where you’ll find the tiny speaker — the smallest of any Amazon device, it was said — and mic.

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You tap a button to activate Alexa, and the ring will vibrate to let you know it’s time to talk. You then ask your hand the question you have in mind, and afterwards cup the ring to your ear — right up to it, because this speaker is tiny. A second or two later, out comes Alexa’s voice, sounding like an old transistor radio, telling you the weather in Barcelona or whatever.

Does it work? Yes, it does. It’s a ring you can ask questions. The speaker is pretty quiet and you need to find the right position to hear it well (admittedly it was fairly loud in the room), but the ring speaks.

It’s not for everybody, which is why it, along with the glasses, are part of the new Day One Edition series of questionable devices. But if you can think of a way it might be useful, be assured: It works as advertised.



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Review: HP’s Elite Dragonfly Chromebook is the cream of the ChromeOS crop

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Enlarge / HP Elite Dragonfly Chromebook.

Specs at a glance: HP Elite Dragonfly Chromebook
Worst Best As reviewed
Screen 13.5-inch 1920 x 1280 IPS touchscreen 13.5-inch 1920 x 1280 IPS touchscreen 13.5-inch 2256 x 1504 IPS touchscreen
OS Chrome OS
CPU Intel Core i3-1215U Intel Core i7-1265U vPro Intel Core i5-1245U vPro
RAM 8GB LPDDR4-4266 32GB LPDDR4-4266 8GB LPDDR4-4266
Storage 128GB NVMe PCIe 3.0 SSD 512GB NVMe PCIe 3.0 SSD 256GB NVMe PCIe 3.0 SSD
GPU Intel Iris Xe
Networking WiFi-6E, Bluetooth 5.2
Ports 2x Thunderbolt 4, 1x USB-A,1x HDMI 2.0, 1x 3.5 mm jack, 1x MicroSD card reader
Size 11.59 x 8.73 x 0.65 inches
(294.38 x 221.74 x 16.51 mm)
Weight Starts at 2.8 lbs (1.27 kg)
Battery 50 Wh
Warranty 1 year
Price (MSRP) $980 $1,800 $1,709 when configured on HP.com
Other N/A 4G optional

Chromebooks are tired of being treated like second-class citizens.

Over the last decade, the developers of ChromeOS have attempted to evolve the operating system with features that could put it more on par with macOS and Windows. Google has been pushing Chromebooks as business machines, touting the purported simplicity and security benefits of their pared down operating system.

HP’s new Elite Dragonfly Chromebook represents a ChromeOS device pushed to the limits, from its appearance to its components.

The laptop comes dressed like some of HP’s most coveted business machines and with up to a 12th Gen Intel Core i7 CPU with Intel vPro support. Performance and style are in a class notably higher than what many think of when they think of Chromebooks.

But while it’s suitable for business users with simple, web-focused needs alone, its performance doesn’t equal Windows machines in the same price range.

$$$

With promises of business-class performance, the Elite Dragonfly Chromebook is one of the most expensive Chromebooks available, at well over $1,000 with maxed-out specs. Of course, there are still Chromebooks available for a few hundred dollars, but with a growing interest in pushing Chromebooks as fleet-ready enterprise machines, eventual gaming devices, and ultraportables with versatile form factors, there are already several Chromebooks in the Dragonfly Chromebook’s elite price class.

Here’s what you can get specs-wise from other pricey Chromebooks when configured similarly to our review machine and based on what’s readily available as of this writing. Note that our configuration isn’t a specific SKU but was rather configured on HP.com. You can find a similar SKU to my review unit but with a 1920×1280 resolution for $1,450.

Model CPU RAM Storage Display Price (as of this writing) Mobile  Networking
HP Elite Dragonfly Chromebook i5-1245U vPro 8GB 256GB SSD 13.5-inch 2256 x 1504 touchscreen $1,709 4G, 5G coming
Dell Latitude 7410 Chromebook Enterprise i5-10310 16GB 256GB SSD 14-inch 1920 x 1080 touchscreen $1,564 4G
Lenovo ThinkPad C14 Chromebook i5-1245U vPro 8GB 256GB SSD 14-inch 1920 x 1280 $1,019 4G
Samsung Galaxy Chromebook Intel Core i5-10210U 8GB 256GB SSD 13.3-inch 3840 x 2160 OLED touchscreen $1,000 N/A

One of the Dragonfly Chromebook’s biggest claims to fame is its optional inclusion of Intel vPro. Among Chromebooks, only the ThinkPad C14 shares this option. vPro support helps sell machines to IT departments, as it enables remote management of the devices.

HP is particularly interested in the stability that the platform promises, a spokesperson told reviewers during a briefing. vPro machines are supposed to use identical silicon across units for as long as the device is sold. HP also pointed to vPro’s performance standards and security perks, particularly vPro’s total memory encryption.

The 2-in-1 also supports 4G for mobile working. 5G is purportedly coming this fall and would help the Dragonfly stand out.

Additional security claims come from Google, which says its read-only OS, verified boot, and blocked executables reduce the need for antivirus protection. IT staff can also approve and block apps and extensions, remotely disable or wipe devices, and perform background updates.

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For the first time ever, more people watched streaming TV than cable

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Enlarge / Nielsen’s breakdown of TV viewing in July 2022.

A new report from market measurement firm Nielsen says that for the first time, TV viewers watched more on streaming services like Netflix and Disney+ than they did on cable TV, making streaming the most popular way to consume content.

The shift has been predicted by analysts and commentators for years, but it has only now come to fruition. Streaming had previously outpaced over-the-air broadcast TV, but cable was still beating it until July.

In July, streaming accounted for 34.8 percent of audiences’ TV viewing. The runner-up was the now-dethroned cable TV, which came up narrowly behind at 34.4 percent. The relatively distant third was broadcast at 21.6 percent.

Streaming was up 22.6 percent compared to July of 2021, and audiences streamed an average of 190.9 billion minutes per week. Nielsen points out that this is substantially more than a previously publicized streaming number: 169.9 billion minutes in April of 2020, one of the most locked-down months of the pandemic.

All that said, the shift could be attributed as much to a lack of new content—especially sports programming—on cable in July as to the growth of streaming. Streaming services have been pumping out new content as fast as ever, while cable channels have slowed down for the summer. There is also much more streaming content than there used to be, thanks to new service launches like Peacock and Paramount+ over the past few years.

Nielsen notes that overall TV viewership hasn’t changed much—just the relative size of each slice of the pie. In other words, people aren’t watching more TV; they’re watching the same amount of TV but in different ways.

The report also outlined the relative performance of different popular streaming platforms. The biggest category was the catch-all “other streaming” at 10.2 percent of the streaming pie, but Netflix was the top single service at 8 percent. It was followed by YouTube at 7.3 percent, Hulu at 3.6 percent, Amazon Prime Video at 3 percent, Disney+ at 1.8 percent, and HBO Max at one percent.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that Nielsen is tracking data from viewing on actual TVs. This data does not include mobile or desktop viewing, which would likely boost streaming even further.

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Hands-on: Logitech’s tiny G705 wireless mouse is more versatile than it looks

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Enlarge / Logitech G705 wireless mouse.

Scharon Harding

I’ll admit it; I have a lot of PC mice. And it’s not just because I review them. Between traveling, multiple computers, gaming, and my living room, I have interest in multiple mice that cater to different needs.

One of those needs is portability. Sure, it’s easy enough to find a mouse that’s wireless and lightweight, but often that comes with limited comfort and/or pared-down features.

At first glance, Logitech’s G705 wireless mouse, announced in late July, seemed too minute to pack real power or accommodate anything but smaller hands. But a few hours into using the peripheral have shown me there’s more than meets the eye in this tiny mouse.

Confusing setup

Logitech’s G705 comes with a 2.4 GHz USB-A dongle, (plus a wireless extender and cable), or you can connect via Bluetooth LE. Logitech includes both because it markets this as fit for gaming and claims the dongle offers latency as low as 1 ms with a 1,000 Hz polling rate, compared to Bluetooth, which limits the mouse’s polling rate to 133 Hz. Since I was gearing up for a day of work, I decided to use Bluetooth, which should also yield better battery life, but this wasn’t so easy at first.

Some wireless mice that offer both dongle and Bluetooth connections have a physical switch to toggle between the two wireless modes or a light indicator to let you know what mode you’re in. The G705’s underside only has a power toggle and a purple button with a mysterious hieroglyphic of two squares and two arrows, plus a light that’s either light blue (dongle connection) or dark blue (Bluetooth). For some, the color difference may not be strong enough for easy reading.

Things could be a little simpler under here.
Enlarge / Things could be a little simpler under here.

Scharon Harding

Even more confusing, Logitech’s included instructions don’t mention that you have to press the button in order to switch between dongle or Bluetooth mode or even that the light indicator can be two (slightly) different colors.

For an amount of time I’d rather not admit to, I was trying to pair the mouse via Bluetooth when it was in dongle mode. I had to use the mouse’s support page to figure things out.

Trading RGB for extra software

If you thought going to a website to figure out how to switch between wireless modes was annoying, you’ll be even more perturbed by this next part.

Like many peripherals with a gaming focus, the G705 has a bounty of features, like programmable buttons and DPI (see our PC mouse terms guide for more on DPI and other mouse lingo) customization, available through software. If you’re happy with how the mouse is programmed and the three preset DPI settings (changeable out-of-the-box by the button south of the scroll wheel), you could make do without Logitech’s G Hub app, but then there’s no way to rid the thing of RGB.

The three RGB zones run around the edge of the mouse, with most of it getting covered when I used the mouse. RGB is a divisive topic in PCs. The LEDs can be gaudy or, worse, intrusive, and can be hard to disable or customize.

You need the app to turn off the light show.
Enlarge / You need the app to turn off the light show.

Scharon Harding

But in a wireless, portable device like this, the bigger issue is battery life. The G705 has the potential to be a multi-device accessory, since it’s only 0.19 pounds and so small. But having to download G Hub on every device in order to use it sans RGB (assuming the app is supported) makes that transition much more painful.

Logitech claims the mouse can last for up to 40 hours with the RGB on but didn’t specify brightness level or effect used. When I left RGB on max brightness for two hours, the mouse’s in-app battery meter read 90 percent.

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